As one of the infamous Blackhart family, sixteen-year-old Kit is trained to protect humanity, police the borders between worlds, and fight evil as necessary. While most of the Fae uphold the fragile treaties established, there are always a few bad apples who slip through to make trouble. Kit and the rest of her clan take care of these problems.
She thinks she’s ready for just about anything, especially since she’s the first proper magic-user the family has seen in years. She’s wrong.
Left alone for the weekend to rest up after a major incident while her cousins head to Scotland to investigate rumors and reports, Kit is caught off-guard when the Fae show up at her doorstep, trouble close at hand. She fights off hostile redcaps and rescues Prince Thorn of the House of Alba from certain doom. They form a tentative partnership as they assess the situation and figure out their next steps. War has come to the Otherwhere, and Thorn’s family is scattered and on the run. They’re on their own. Before they can properly regroup, Blackthorn Manor is attacked, and the two end up fleeing for their lives in the start of a harrowing struggle that takes them across the British Isles and even into the Otherwhere itself. With potential traitors at every turn, an ancient mastermind pulling the strings of multiple faerie factions, and the Elder Gods themselves on the verge of rising, Kit and Thorn will risk everything to save the day.
Banished, the first part of de Jager’s Blackhart Legacy trilogy, starts off quietly, introducing us to what seems to be a faerie-centric Buffy knockoff. After all, how many times have we seen teenage girls who fight evil and kick ass? Sure, this one’s set in Great Britain and she’s up against rogue banshees instead of vampires, but you could hold a convention with the various manifestations of the Buffy archetype at this point. So the introduction is solid but nothing terribly special. But then it picks up with the introduction of an entire family devoted to the same cause…again, something we see frequently in YA and adult urban fantasy.
Where this story truly hits its stride is when Thorn and Kit are forced out onto the road, their refuge destroyed and their allies incommunicado. All of a sudden there’s an evil army after them, a dragon in the sky, and the stakes are high. From that point on, as we become privy to the various plans in motion and complications, we get a glimpse of the epic scale de Jager’s actually working on. As the story bounces from one crisis to the next, one realm to the next, we’re granted dribs and drabs of historical background and larger context, so we can understand the forces at play. It’s impressive and complex.
However, the presence of so many familiar elements means that the overall story feels comfortably familiar as well. If not this specific set of circumstances, we’ve seen much of it before in other manifestations. Plucky, independent, magically empowered heroine, check. Hunky, noble, magically delicious male lead/love interest, preferably of supernatural origin, check. Romance quietly blooming, check. Fate of the world at stake, definitely check. De Jager draws liberally from the standard toolbox for YA urban fantasy/paranormal romance. It’s a solid, well-told, lushly-described, complex story, for all that, and a treat to read.
And yet some elements are a little off. One of the primary villains is so downright evil that he might as well twirl a moustache and eat kittens. As it is, he brutally murders the young grandson of a “loyal supporter” for absolutely no reason save to show how far he’s fallen and/or been influenced by the Elder Gods. It’s a brief yet horrific scene, and a real mood killer. There’s a lot of excess material in this book, making it feel both longer and denser than it necessarily needs to be…especially since we’re already looking at a trilogy in the making.
Liz de Jager is credited with writing a popular book blog for seven years; it’s obvious to me that she’s studied her material well, honed her craft, and distilled the fundamentals of this subset of YA down into a winning formula. It’s a beautifully dark story, but not groundbreaking. It hits all the right notes, but in a calculated way. It delivers plenty of action and adventure, and will leave readers wanting more. Hopefully she can continue to grow and improve and find the truly unique voice and hook that will leave all Buffy comparisons behind for good.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Southwest VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who translates Geek-to-Mundane for him. He is the self-proclaimed High Pornomancer of the Golden Horde, and the editor of Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.